13 new satellites support its direct-to-cellular service with T-Mobile US

On the 14th anniversary of its Falcon 9 rocket’s first launch, Starlink put up 20 new satellites, 13 of which have direct-to-cellular capabilities.

The launch brings the number of D2C-capable satellites that Starlink has in space to 50, according to a SpaceX post on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

According to another post from Michael Nicolls, VP of Starlink engineering at SpaceX, 26 satellites launched over the past month represent more than eight percent of the satellites needed for initial direct-to-cellular service. Starlink began launching the D2C-capable “Starlink V2” satellites in January of this year, in anticipation of commercial service with a number of carriers around the world, including T-Mobile US.

SpaceX’s official X account had also posted on May 21 that Starlink had completed its first video call on X through direct-to-cellular satellites and regular smartphones. 

“We’re excited to go live with T-Mobile later this year,” the post said. 

“The satellite industry will be pleased to see Starlink launching direct-to-cell satellites into space. However, it’s important to note that any direct-to-cellular services today that are designed to connect to unmodified handsets, can only support low-bandwidth basic connectivity services, such as voice, SMS and web browsing; they won’t enable end users to stream high-quality video and access other demanding high-bandwidth services,” said Peter Kibutu, advanced technology lead for Non-Terrestrial Networks at consultancy The Technology Partnership (TTP), in emailed comments. “Satellite connectivity akin to today’s 4G and 5G connectivity user experience will require new handsets with antennas modified for satellite connectivity based on the 5G NTN waveform,” he added. 

“The success of early direct-to-unmodified handset satellite services, like Starlink’s, will be crucial in meeting the current needs for extending cellular coverage for basic services to under-served areas,” Kibutu said. “In addition, it will prepare the ground for future investment in higher performance satellite services based on new 5G NTN enabled handsets.”

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